By Hannah Whitall Smith
In the life of faith, some very great mistakes are made concerning the matter of temptation.
First of all, people seem to think that temptations will cease after one is saved. They think that they will be delivered from yielding to temptation and from being tempted. When temptations come they are completely discouraged. They think they must have gone wrong in some way.
They make the mistake of looking upon temptation as sin. Even though they hate the sin, they blame themselves for the suggestion brought about by the temptation. This brings them into condemnation and discouragement. A discouraged soul is an easy prey of sin, so that we often fall from the very fear of having fallen.
To meet the first of these difficulties, it is necessary to refer to the scriptures which state that the Christian life is to be one of warfare. It is especially so when we "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6) . We are called to wrestle against spiritual enemies, whose power and skill to tempt us is far superior to any we have encountered before. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6: 12) . In fact, temptations generally increase in strength after we have entered the higher Christian life. However, we must never suppose we have not really found the true abiding place. Strong temptations are often a sign of great grace.
When the children of Israel had first left Egypt, the Lord did not lead them through the country of the Philistines, although that was the nearest way. Exodus 13:17 tells us "for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt." But afterwards, when they had learned how to trust Him better, He permitted their enemies to attack them. Even in their journey through the wilderness they met with few enemies, and fought few battles. But in the land of Canaan they had to conquer seven great nations and thirtyone kings, take walled cities, and overcome giants.
They could not have fought with the "Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites" (Exodus 3:8), until they had gone into the land where these enemies were. The power of your temptations may be one of the strongest proofs that you really are in the land of promise. Consequently, you must never allow them to cause you to question that fact.
Temptation Is Not Sin
It is harder to deal with the second mistake often made regarding temptation. It hardly seems to be worth saying that temptation is not sin. Yet, much distress arises from not understanding this fact. Even the suggestion of doing wrong makes the poor tempted soul begin to feel as if it must be very bad indeed. The person feels that he or she must be far away from God to have had such thoughts and suggestions. It is as if a burglar should break into a man's house to steal, and when the master of the house begins to resist him and drive him out, the burglar turns around and accuses the owner of being the thief. This is Satan's great trick for entrapping us. He comes and whispers suggestions of evil to us -_doubts, blasphemies, jealousies, envyings, and pride -_and then turns around and says, "You are wicked to think such things! It is very plain that you are not trusting the Lord. For if you had been, it would be impossible for these things to have entered your heart.'' This reasoning sounds so plausible that we often accept it as true, come under condemnation, and are filled with discouragement. Then it is easy for temptation to develop into actual sin.
One of the most fatal things in the life of faith is discouragement. One of the most helpful is confidence. Someone once said that in overcoming temptations confidence was the first thing, confidence the second, and confidence the third. We must expect to conquer. That is why the Lord so often said to Joshua, "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed" (Joshua 1:9). "Only be thou strong and very courageous" (Joshua 1:7). It is also the reason He says to us, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" John 14:27). The power of temptation is to make our hearts faint. Satan knows this well and always begins his assaults by discouraging us in any way he can.
This discouragement sometimes arises from what we think is a righteous grief and disgust at ourselves that such things could be any temptation to us. However, we are really ashamed at the realization that we placed ourselves "above" being tempted. We are discouraged because we expected something from ourselves, and are sorely disappointed not to find something there. This shame and discouragement may appear to be true humility. However, they are really a far worse condition than the temptation itself, for they are nothing but the results of wounded selflove. True humility can bear to see its own weakness and foolishness revealed, because it never expected anything from itself and knows that its only hope and expectation must be in God. Therefore, instead of discouraging the humble soul from trusting, such revelations drive it to a deeper and more complete trust. But the counterfeit humility that selflove produces plunges the soul into the depths of a faithless discouragement and drives it into the very sin which distressed it.
The Source Of Temptation
There is a symbolic story that illustrates this wonderfully. Satan called together a council of his servants to consult how they might make a good man sin. One demon said, "I will make him sin." "How will you do it?" asked Satan. "I will set before him the pleasures of sin," was the reply. "I will tell him of its delights, and the rich rewards it brings." "Ah," said Satan, "that will not do. He has tried it and knows better than that." Another demon said, "I will make him sin.'' "What will you do?" asked Satan. "I will tell him of the pains and sorrows of virtue. I will show him that virtue has no delights, and brings no rewards." "Ah, no!" exclaimed Satan, "that will not do at all. He has tried it and knows that ' (Wisdom's) ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace'" (Proverbs 3:17). "Well," said another demon, "I will undertake to make him sin." "And what will you do?" asked Satan again. "I will discourage his soul," was the short reply. "Ah, that will do!" cried Satan. "That will do! We will conquer him now."
An old writer says, "All discouragement is from the devil." I wish every Christian would take this as a motto, and would realize that he must fight discouragement as he would sin.
But this is impossible if we fail to recognize the truth about temptation. If temptations were our own fault, we could not help being discouraged. But they are not. The Bible says, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation" (James 1:12). We are strongly urged to "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations" (James 1:2). Temptation, therefore, cannot be sin. The truth is, it is no more a sin to hear these whispers and suggestions of evil in our souls, than it is for us to hear the wicked talk of men as we pass along the street. In either case, the sin comes, only by our stopping and joining in with them. If we turn from wicked suggestions at once as we would turn from wicked talk, and pay no more attention to them than we would to the talk, we do not sin. But we sin if we dwell on them. We may be enticed by temptations a thousand times a day and not sin. We cannot help these enticings and are not to blame for them. But if we begin to think that these enticings are actual sin on our part, then the battle is already half lost, and the sin can easily gain a complete victory.
A dear lady in distress from not understanding this once came to me. She had been living very happily in the life of faith for some time, and had been so free from temptation that she began to think she would never be tempted again. But suddenly, a very peculiar form of temptation had assailed her which had horrified her. She found that the moment she began to pray, dreadful thoughts of all kinds would rush into her mind. She had lived a very sheltered, innocent life. These thoughts seemed so awful to her that she felt she must be one of the most wicked of sinners to be capable of having them. She began by thinking that she could not possibly have entered into the rest of faith, and ended by concluding that she had never even been born again. Her soul was in agony. I told her that these dreadful thoughts were purely and simply temptations, and that she herself was not to blame for them at all. She could not help them anymore than she could help hearing a wicked man pour out his blasphemies in her presence. I urged her to recognize and treat them only as temptations and not to blame herself or be discouraged, but rather to turn at once to the Lord and commit them to Him. I showed her how great an advantage Satan gained by making her think these thoughts originated with her, plunging her into condemnation and discouragement. I assured her she would find a speedy victory if she would pay no attention to them, ignore their presence, and simply turn her back on them and look to the Lord.
She grasped the truth, and the next time these blasphemous thoughts came, she rebuked Satan. She concentrated on the Lord, and Satan fled in confusion, and her soul was perfectly delivered. Satan knows if he is recognized as the source of the temptation, the Christian will recoil from it far more quickly than if it seems to be the suggestion of his own mind. If the devil prefaced each temptation with the words "I am the devil, your relentless enemy. I have come to make you sin," I suppose we would hardly feel any desire at all to yield to his suggestions. He has to hide himself in order to make his baits attractive. Our victory will be more easily gained if we are not ignorant of his devices and recognize them at his very first approach.
More Than Conquerors
We also make another great mistake about temptations. We think that all time spent in combating them is lost. Hours pass and we seem to have made no progress because we have been so beset with temptations. But it often happens that we have been serving God far more truly during these hours than in our times of comparative freedom from temptation. For we are fighting our Lord's battles when we are fighting temptation, and hours are often worth days to us under these circumstances . We read, " Blessed is the man that enduretb temptation'' (James 1: 12). I am sure this means enduring temptation that continues and recurs. Patience is cultivated when one endures temptation. Nothing so drives us to completely depend upon the Lord Jesus as the continuance of temptation. Nothing brings more praise and honor and glory to the Lord than the trial of our faith that comes through temptations. 1 Peter 1:7 tells us that it is "more precious than of gold. . .though it be tried with fire." James 1:12 says that we who patiently endure the trial, shall receive for our reward "the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him."
The Holy Spirit strongly urges us in James 1 :24: "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptation; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh, patience. But let patience have her per fect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.'
Temptation is plainly one of the instruments used by God to complete our perfection. Thus, sin's own weapons are turned against itself, and we see how it is that all things (even temptations) can work together for good to them that love God.
We must commit ourselves to the Lord for victory over our temptations as we committed ourselves at first for forgiveness. We must leave our selves completely in His hands for both. Thousands of God's children have done this and can today testify that marvellous victories have been gained over temptations. They have in very truth been made "more than conquerors" through Him who loves them.